The Seeds of Success Program from One Season to the Next

By Emily Wittkop

February 2021

As we ring in the New Year, many of us are reflecting on moments past and looking forward to new things to come. We focus on wrapping up loose ties from the last season, but as the light returns, it reinvigorates the senses and we begin to set in motion new intentions. This encourages me to reflect on the cycles within nature and the seasonality of the work that we do.  There is a sense of anticipation for new growth, which culminates at the height of the season with flowers yearning for attention before setting seed for the next year. As we descend, vascular plants wrap up the energy spent, curling into dormancy with anticipation of what is to come as the cycle begins again.

Composite fleabane (Erigeron compositus) at Horse Rock Ridge.
The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) participates in this seasonal rhythm by wild-collecting native seed every year in support of restoration, recovery and seed banking projects. One of the ways we do this is through the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. SOS is a national native seed collection program led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designed to sustain healthy ecosystems through the research, development and restoration of native plant materials. IAE and the BLM have teamed up to focus on collection of species found in rare mid-elevation meadows in the Cascade foothills. Making these materials readily available helps to restore and support these vital ecosystems that provide the foundation for fish and wildlife habitat. Throughout my time at IAE, I have had the pleasure of playing an active role in contributing to this program. This has fostered a deeper appreciation for the work that we do and given me the opportunity to help steward ecosystems and the next generation of these vital native species.
Collecting herbarium specimens for the Seed of Success program.
Giant blue eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) at Horse Rock Ridge.
As we move into spring, we seed collectors anxiously await the early germinants to make their first appearance. The eagerness starts the cycle of planning for what species we would like to see augmented in these unique mid-elevation meadows that surround the Willamette Valley. At IAE, our Habitat Restoration and Plant Materials staff pool our knowledge and expertise to formulate a target collection list for the upcoming season. We ask questions such as:  what species would we like to see more of at our restoration sites? What work horse species are best for first year succession? Are these species more successfully introduced as plugs or through directly-sown seed (requiring larger quantities of seed)?  Answers to these questions inform what species and how much seed we will collect each year.

Last year, IAE collected seed for 13 species from six different mid-elevation sites through the SOS program. In addition to submitting collections to the national SOS office for seed banking, we also collected seed to be used to grow plugs for outplanting at mid-elevation sites, or to establish seed amplification beds. Genetic diversity is of the utmost importance, so we make it a point to visit various sites over the course of the season in order to gather adequate representation of the populations.

Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) germinates.
Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) in flower at the IAE farm.
Soon, we will start scouting again for these species as we draw closer to the first signs of spring. The crisp air welcomes the return of the sweet essence of witch hazel and the narcissus shoots boldly stretch towards the sun. As the winter days linger, we adjust to our indoor routines, but we know that warmer months are on the horizon. I look forward to the days to come, scouting for the next generation of these highly valued native species. This reflection is a good reminder that patience and small acts of stewardship lead to big rewards.

We are grateful for the funding from the Bureau of Land Management for their support of our work in the Seeds of Success program.

Seed collection technician Anya Vollstedt collecting seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) at Horse Rock Ridge.
2020 Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) harvest at the IAE Farm. Seed collected from six sites over five seasons was used to start this field.